Eight Pearls of Wisdom from John Cage

John Cage was a 20th century contemporary music composer, visual artist, writer and mushroom enthusiast, immersed in Zen Buddhism. Probably most famous for composing a piece of total silence, Cage is one of my favourite people to have ever existed. He had the idea that music should allow the performer and the listener similar status. Fascinated by ancient practices (I-Ching) and nature, Cage also embraced the possibilities that came with new technology. If you don’t know him and you’re intrigued, I recommend reading his Lecture on Nothing. I read this in his book Silence, but I believe it can be found online too.

Today I’ll be sharing eight Cage nuggets from Sixty Answers to thirty-three questions from Daniel Charles found in the book For the Birds. In Cagean style, these have been chosen randomly, as has the number eight!

  1. There is one thing we do not do, and that is to use an answering service. It is one of the greatest urgency – even an ethical matter – that we be able to reach one another. Even those who are egotists will change their minds about interruptions (that is, they will become superficially moral) : telephone communications received will be the means by which their social credit exceeds a basic economic security (keeping social usefulness in mind).
  2. A completely modern means involves the use of a computer. The yield is voluminous, fascinating.
  3. You are right: it couldn’t be otherwise. Innocent vision. But we have a gift for making things ugly. Someone all alone will always darken the corner where he is without any trouble at all. When Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilisation, he said: ‘it would be nice.’
  4. There are two ways to fall down a mountain. One is to slip while you are climbing up. The other is natural. Once you have reached the summit and begin to go down, you gain speed.
  5. When you leave a reception, after you say good-bye to the host, you seek out the hostess to thank her. The family idiots, whom at one time you might also have thanked, are unfortunately no longer kept at home.
  6. Interpenetration
  7. Nothing else to do.
  8. The social situation is critical. The one who does what’s already done no longer counts. That something is done means that it is not necessary for someone else to do it. One hand suffices; two is one too many. Hands are not possessive – they belong to the same body.

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